Mr Pustra in Villains
Dress by Lenka Padysakova.
Dress by Lenka Padysakova.
I bring to you today an interview with the talent Mr Pustra - Vaudevillian extraodinaire - an interview which I've wanted to do for ages and have finally done. If you haven't already, don't forget to check out my feature on him but now, it is time to sit back, pop your feet up, get some bubbly and see what makes Mr Pustra, well, Mr Pustra!
SBS: You're about to embark on a tour for your show, VILLAINS - are you excited? How long have you been preparing for it, from the concept to end product (set/costumes, etc), and where did the inspiration for VILLAINS come from?
MR PUSTRA: I am excited indeed but many sleepless nights lay ahead. 'Villains' started out as an idea to do a show with only boys in it. I wanted to create a fantasy, a dark tale, a dream world where Mr Pustra could run free and the show just gradually developed and grew. Like mould. 'Villains' started in May of this year as a revue in London. I wasn't sure what I wanted it to be. I knew I wanted to do something theatrical. Cabaret has served me well but I wanted something more, Cabaret is not very satisfying, so a bigger platform is needed. I met a director in Rome last year and he told me: "you need a bigger stage for your art. You're a shark in a small pond and you need to swim in the ocean". He will be involved in 'Villains' so it's a great opportunity to work with him.
Of course, I will marry this man and move to Capri.
SBS: For people who aren't aware of your work, what is your show about?
MR PUSTRA: 'Villains' is an offbeat fairy tale set in different locations: Hungary, Berlin and Coney Island and of course ... Hell. It has a distinctive style and as I am all about the visual, the costumes and content is carefully selected. We are lucky to have this show in Teatro Palladium as it's quite an experimental theatre in Rome. The story has 2 main characters: Mr Pustra and Joe Black. They are very different characters with different layers. It's turning out to be quite autobiographical.
Image by Scott Chalmers
SBS: Joe Black is your chosen partner in crime, so was Mr Black a natural choice for you to work with in VILLAINS?
MR PUSTRA: I invited Joe to come do the London show with me as I thought we would complement each other and it would be interesting to see two strange boys, with the same 'look' on stage.
Mr Pustra + Joe Black
Image courtesy RomaEuropa.net
SBS: Your VILLAINS show will be in Rome on 1st + 2nd February 2011 at the Teatro Palladium. Why did you decide to take your show to Italy?
MR PUSTRA: The promoters approached me while I was in Hong Kong on vacation as they had two dates available in Teatro Palladium. I worked with them before and they knew of what I did and wanted to stage a show in a theatre rather than in a 'cabaret' space. So here we are.
SBS: How would you describe your journey into the world of Vaudeville?
MR PUSTRA: I come from a musical theatre background but never quite 'fitted' or made it into mainstream musicals. (Obviously). The parts of men were either too 'butch' or too specific and I just couldn't see myself in any of the shows around. I gave up on auditioning as I was getting nowhere and drifted for a few years doing shit soulless jobs. About 5 years ago, a friend and I formed a double act called PUSTRA/VILE-EEN, as you know, and our love for comedy and the absurd just took over. Vaudeville was then still an unknown term as it was all about the Neo-Burlesque scene that exploded in London. Now, every venue or artist calls themselves a Vaudevillian. It is funny.
SBS: What particularly inspires you about the dark, melancholic side of Vaudeville?
MR PUSTRA: I am attracted to the darker side of theatre and life in general and I have always been a melancholic person. That interest has nothing to do with Vaudeville really, but just how I want to express myself as an artist and what I want to communicate to other people. So I am using Vaudeville as my platform. I have a special affinity with the downtrodden, misfits and the lonely souls out there. I am my own person and don't fit into the various 'cliques' of the London Cabaret scene. I don't lick anyone's arse and I follow my own path.
SBS: Does Vaudeville's Darkest Muse have a muse of his own?
MR PUSTRA: Klaus Nomi, Anita Berber, Claude Cahun, Andy Warhol, Edith Piaf, Coco Chanel, Toulouse-Lautrec, Tennessee Williams, Poppy Z. Brite, Elvira and Depeche Mode. The list is infinite.
SBS: How would you describe yourself + your style?
MR PUSTRA: I am complicated. I have a strong work ethic which can cause a lot of frustration for myself as I don't find that in most people I work with. I understand everyone works at their own pace, but it gets on my tits when people are lazy and just rude or want to be famous for doing nothing. Work for it.
My style varies. I love fashion and love to experiment. I love Gareth Pugh and Vivienne Westwood. I would love to use more fashion in my performance work. I love edgy looks; Weimer Berlin is a big part of my style, Circus, Vintage, and even New Romantic styles. I love looking at Haute Couture. I don't like Lady Gaga btw, she annoys me.
SBS: Your aesthetic is repeatedly likened to Tim Burton - do you think this is a fair analysis?
MR PUSTRA: Yes. It was a calculated move on my part - my style is evolving constantly and I am attracted to his work as film is my favourite mistress. I want to work with him - he should do a Pustra animation.
Image courtesy connect.in.com
SBS: You seem quite natural and uninhibited on stage. How easy is it for you to become Mr Pustra? Which aspects of his persona do you relate to the most?
MR PUSTRA: Oh, nothing came natural to me. I had many inhibitions to overcome, hence my admiration for Anita Berber. She just didn't give a shit and I like that. When I was about 19, I went to a fortune teller in London to have a tarot reading done and she told me Showbiz is not the career for me; I am too sensitive and weak. I had to face this at college and only in my second year I blossomed. I wanted to give up as I struggled like hell. I felt stupid. Even then I was very determined with a clear mindset of what I wanted to do. I wrote my own little show after leave college and had no support from them as I wouldn't submit or conform to their mold. I didn't want to be 'produced' by them.
SBS: Which performers of the 1920s + 1930s inspire you in your work, and why?
MR PUSTRA: Anita Berber: she pushed people's buttons and was very forward thinking. I love that she exposed herself in hotel lobbies looking great in fur with her pet monkey. How fabulous! Oh, and Josephine Baker. What a story she had.
SBS: You have quite an underground following. Do you find that you have 'regulars' frequenting your shows, and if so, how as an artist and performer does this make you feel?
MR PUSTRA: I think I have a 'small' following, I think a lot of people are unsure of me and don't know how to 'label' me. I get many emails from people all over the world telling me they really appreciate my art and 'get' the emotion in what I do. Joe (Black) tells me I need to be more specific as people don't know what I am about: I am a performer and that can mean many different things to different people. I try to be an all-round artist: Fine Art, video, performance and writing. After a show, I do get really shy or uncomfortable with compliments or praise. I tend to hide backstage. It's weird. We were in Dublin a few weeks ago for 'Villains' and people were really kind and showered us with admiration. So, I don't think I will cope well with fame. I just want success.
Success I have earned by working hard. But I guess the two go hand in hand?
SBS: Do you design your own costumes, or do you have them commissioned?
MR PUSTRA: I source different items and style myself. When you have no money you learn how to do that. I have also learnt to make may own props and customising various costumes.
Lenka Padysakova + Mr Pustra
SBS: Lenka Padysakova created your costumes for VILLAINS. How did that come about?
MR PUSTRA: We met in Rome last year and I wore some of her garments for a photoshoot. We stayed in touch and developed a friendship. She supports what I do and wanted to create some costumes for me in 'Villains'.
Mr Pustra + Adam Ant
Image courtesy daemiane.blogspot.com
SBS: I read somewhere that 80s music icon, Adam Ant came along to your show and loved it. How did you feel about meeting him?
MR PUSTRA: I was quite embarrassed and flattered - I was introduced to him when he arrived at the club and then was given the green light to perform. I met him afterwards briefly and heard later he liked my act and wanted to book me for his show. But of course, that never happened. That's showbiz!
SBS: You recently produced a video for avant garde fashion designer, Marko Mitanovski. How did that come about? How did you find the experience?
MR PUSTRA: I was asked by my friend, Nina Butkovich-Budden, who runs a salon in London. She knew Marko and loved my video work and is very supportive of me. I was thrilled to do it as Marko's designs are amazing and right up my street. The video did a lot for my self-confidence and I loved directing and editing. So it was a very positive experience to be part of a great designer like Marko's rise to fame. I am planning to film showreels next year and start a small business. The day job on the side thing.
SBS: Next year you'll be appearing at Coney Island, New York. Will this be your first time in the States? Why did you choose Coney Island? A short US tour will follow - when will this take place, and which cities will you be including in your tour?
MR PUSTRA: I was invited by Dick Zigun who runs the Sideshows by The Seashore to come play the Musical Saw in some event. My other interest is of course Circus/Freak Shows and to be part of the legendary Coney Island is just a dream come true. I am still working our the details for the rest of my trip, but it may include Washington DC and more dates in Manhattan. Hopefully LA as well. Stay tuned.
SBS: Your fan base is global. Is there anywhere in the world you'd like to tour which you haven't already, and do you think you would pop down to Australia at some point in the near future?
MR PUSTRA: I have a global fan base?
Breeches by Lenka Padysakova.
Image by Matilda Temperley
SBS: If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
MR PUSTRA: Made an effort in dance class. I really admire dancers.
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